A SHORT HISTORY OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF NEW LONDON, N H
by Tom DeMille
On July 4, 1826 America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson & John Adams lay on their deathbeds and Adam’s son, John Quincy, was President of the United States. New London was a fast growing town of around 950 souls, most of them Baptists worshipping in the Town’s Meeting House on Summer Street, now known as Old Main Street. Job Seamans was in the 38th year of his 42-year pastorate and his son, Job Seamans, Jr., was the Town’s First Selectman.
On that day, a group of townspeople gathered on top of Colby Hill at dawn and worked into the night to erect a large post and beam structure on foundation stones laid down the week before. The work was performed under the supervision of David Everett and future New Hampshire Governor Anthony Colby. It was built to a design by renowned church architect Asher Benjamin and completed by late that year. Its occupation in January of 1827 marked the end of one era and the beginning of a remarkable future for First Baptist.
New London is a relatively young town by New England standards, having been incorporated in the summer of 1779. Only sixteen families lived in what was then considered the wilderness. Under New Hampshire law each town was required to choose a community faith by majority vote at the Town Meeting and to thereafter financially support the chosen religion. The overwhelming majority of towns voted to support the Congregational Church, but at the 1787 Town Meeting, New London chose a different course.
The end of the Revolutionary War brought an influx of new comers to New London, many from Attleboro, Massachusetts, near the Rhode Island border. Roger Williams had established the first American Baptist Church in that Colony and the recent arrivals from Attleboro were familiar with a young Baptist pastor named Job Seamans. Invited to speak that summer, Pastor Seamans was promptly “called” by the Town to be its first settled minister at an annual salary of forty pounds (three pounds cash and thirty-seven pounds in labor and grain). Baptists believed in separation of church and state so in 1805, long before such separation was mandated by statute, parishioners formed the Baptist Society to pay its minister and otherwise run its affairs. They continued to worship in the Town’s Meeting House on Summer Street, however, until the new church opened in January 1827.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The building of this beautiful white clapboard church on Colby Hill changed the face of New London forever. It led to the relocation of the Town center one mile west of its original spot. It led to the founding of the institutional predecessor to Colby-Sawyer College. Every event of significance in the Town and Nation’s history has been marked within its walls. People of all faiths or no faith at all have found solace at gatherings in times of crisis, from Lincoln’s assassination to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Revere Bell has called its members to worship, tolled the death of the Town’s citizens and, in conjunction with the Town Clock installed in 1884, has acted as the community’s timekeeper.
In its 180th year in July 2006, the First Baptist Meeting House was listed on both the Federal and State Register of Historic Places, hailed as a Town landmark and a structure of significance in the history of our community and nation. It continues to serve both well.